I was 23 years old. Sitting alone in an apartment in Lexington, KY, my dad having left the night before after helping me move 7 hours north from my beloved Georgia. It was the first time I’d lived on my own, and so far from home. And the next week, I was beginning a 90-hour Master of Divinity degree and beginning work as the Student Associate for Youth Ministry at a church in Bardstown, KY. I was pretty darn terrified, and I was attempting to ignore the fear by reading a book I was supposed to have finished before class started the next week.
It wasn’t working.
There came a knock on the door. An insistent one. I opened it up, and on the other side stood a very tall, very smiling, very eager fellow student who I’d seen in passing earlier in the day. “Hey! I’m Joby,” he said, “and some of us are going down to get a drink at Charlie Brown’s and thought you might want to go.”
I equivocated. Made mumbling excuse. I was grumpy, afraid, and also unshowered. I had no desire to be “social.”
But Joby insisted. Maybe he saw that I needed encouragement. Maybe it was just his way. But the next thing I knew, he’d taken the book I was pretending to read from my hands, walked back to the bathroom of my apartment, turned on the shower, and hollered at me to “Clean up! And meet us downstairs in a half hour!”
Too stunned to argue, I did as I was told. And by the time I got home that night I had both new friends and a new favorite place to be. Charlie Brown’s was cozy. Bookshelf-lined and full of couches and friendly bartenders. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many afternoons and evenings I spent there over the next few years.
Ever been dragged along in a moment when you needed just that? Probably you couldn’t voice it, but exactly what you needed was to have someone who cared to grab you by the scruff of the neck, and insist that you make forward movement of some sort, because you’re so mired down by the muck of life that even thinking about such a thing is exhausting?
Ever been pulled along through a situation you weren’t quite sure how to navigate? Had a hand to hold as you moved through a new relationship or a new job? Or a crisis? Or a traumatic event? Or just a really, really bad few days?
Ever been buoyed by the strength of those around you? By those who are refusing to let you fall, even as it feels like maybe the entire floor of your existence is going to give way, and you cannot imagine how you’ll rise above the wreckage?
Nope. Me either. I was just wondering if maybe YOU had (#sarcasmfont).
Look, if you’ve been lucky enough to have been loved enough, to have been dragged, pulled, encouraged, held along through one of life’s more difficult paths…well, thank the angels, because far too many folks in this world fall through the cracks. And hear this: there is no shame in it. At all. And here’s how I know this–whoever is pulling you along? Whoever is insisting that you Will. Not. Fall? He or she has been there. I promise. Someone pulled them along. And all they are doing is reaching back to pull someone else after them, paying forward the blessing.
I got a message last week from a woman who is living through some unspeakably difficult days. And ahead of her is a very long road of recovery from deep heartache, righteous anger, and terrible loss. She asked for some words of encouragement. I’m still wondering at her trust, marveling at the strength it took for her to ask for help, and humbled that I might have anything at all to say that might be helpful in these days she is stumbling through. I felt her pain deeply, so much that I had to speak it to a trusted friend of my own.
And that friend said to me, “You will help her, because you know what it is to be pulled along. And when we have been pulled along, the next thing we learn to do is to reach back and grab those behind us, so that they have a way forward, too.”
Gut punch truth. Deeply and compassionately wise my friend was to say those words to me.
Y’all, you know I say this all the time, in one way or another, but there simply is no getting through this life alone. This myth that we must be independent and forge a path in isolation, or that we do anything at all without standing on the shoulders of countless others–it is utter and complete BS. Turns out John Donne was right after all and no one, at all, is an island. And to pretend otherwise is utterly pointless (and maybe even a wee bit arrogant when we do so at the expense of others).
And I know, I’m lucky–I have, from the first moment of my existence, been surrounded by real community. I speak from that privilege. And I used to take this horribly for granted. But not anymore. Now I’ve seen what isolation and loneliness can do to a person. Now I know what happens when we take a stab at acting as if our individual lives don’t have any bearing on the community as a whole. Also BS.
So what I’m saying is this–if you’ve had the very good fortune to be pulled along at some point in your life…a really great way to express some gratitude for that would be to reach behind you and pull someone else along now.
In other words, be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.
Be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.
It is, in many ways, a wonderful time to be alive. And it is, in many ways, a really shitty time as well. But y’all–the way into whatever’s next is only to be found when we’re willing to find it together. When we’re willing to brave some vulnerability, extend some compassion, open our hearts and our lives to someone who needs both, and offer these words, “Never alone.”
Never alone. I’ve got you. Let’s go.